Covid trash

Robin entangled in surgical mask
This Canadian robin was found entangled in one of the billions of blue surgical masks used and discarded during the Covid-19 pandemic. Sandra Denisuk, A.-F. Hiemstra et al/Animal Biology 2021

Well the list of covid related problems just keeps growing. Researchers in the Netherlands have been documenting a lot of wildlife which are being killed by discarded masks and latex gloves. They are also inviting individuals from all over the world to post their own observations of wildlife that has been affected by covid waste. (Negatively or positively – many animals are dying while some birds have been using masks and gloves in nest building.)

You can find their website, see the results, and make your own report here: https://www.covidlitter.com/

A story about it in Science News can be found here: Science News Covid Trash Article

Our volunteers are very diligent about pickup up trash as well as fishing line. While a mask is dangerous until we find it, we usually find and remove them pretty quickly, thus reducing the danger. So far we have not found any wildlife entangled in covid litter at Lake Hodges.

If you would like to help us – at Lake Hodges or at your own local fishing area – please contact me.

Spring status at Lake Hodges

Lake Hodges has been open to fishing for over two months now. We have a number of new volunteers and we are able to cover the entire lakeshore almost every week. It would be good if we could do it twice a week – after the weekend of fishing and after Wednesday fishing – but we’re getting there.

I looked back through my records and the last egret we found hooked or entangled was in 2019! That is good progress. Birds such as cormorants and coots will try to take the bait from fishing line that is still in use by the fishermen. The fishermen could reel those birds in and remove the hook or take them to wildlife rehab, but most just cut them loose and leave them to die. This is something that I think we can reduce through education. We still lose grebes to underwater fishing line entanglement, but fewer of them. Finding and removing underwater line is a challenge. We are actually getting pretty good at it along the shoreline, but offshore underwater line is a problem that we have not yet solved.

If you would like to help us proactively save birds and wildlife by removing threats from their habitat, then we can sure use your help. Training is provided. Contact me for more information.

Some good news for a change

We found a lot of birds affected by fishing and/or boating activities at Lake Hodges in 2019. We have only found two since March of 2020 and those both appeared to have been the victims of deliberate attacks (possibly a pellet gun in one case) rather than incidental hooking, entanglement, or boat strikes.

This means that we are finally catching up and making a measurable difference in the bird fatality rates at Lake Hodges. That is very good news and gives us encouragement after 2.5 years of hard work.

When we started we would poke the boat into the shore, pull all of the fishing line that we could find, back out, move over 2 to 5 feet, poke the bow back into the shore, pull all of the line that we could see, etc. It took months to make our first complete circuit of the lake at this rate.

Now we have a good group of volunteers, some of them quite regular, and we are pretty well caught up with old fishing line. So we are able to cover almost the entire shoreline each week. That is a really big deal because the sooner you find the line after it was lost, the less chance it has to catch and kill a bird.

I’d like to thank all of the people who have helped us get to this point. Some are out there every week, some have only been able to come once or a few times. All are appreciated – we never know which piece of line that we retrieve might have been the one that killed a bird.

Now the end of the season is approaching. The lake will be closing on October 28th and will reopen in February for the 2021 season. We will not be accepting applications for volunteers until mid-January. We will be scouring the lakeshore through the winter, trying to get every last bit of line and litter that we can find. That will put us in really good shape for opening day of fishing season.

We usually lose some volunteers over the winter. And a lot of line is lost during the first weeks of fishing season. So I will likely post a call for new volunteers in January. If you’ve been thinking of joining us, please contact me at that time and I’ll get you started.

Winter birds at Lake Hodges

San Diego county is an important bird hotspot in the US. Lake Hodges and the surrounding land is a very large natural area in the county and so is very important for birds and is very popular with wintering birds.

The winter residents have begun showing up and in just the last couple of weeks we’ve seen these newly arrived winter birds and others that we failed to ID:

Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Osprey
Winter egrets (most go away during mating season)
Eared grebes
Ruddy Ducks
Lesser Yellowlegs
Solitary sandpipers
Belted Kingfishers
Yellow-rumped Warblers
Common Yellowthroat

On Again, off again … currently on!

A lot has changed in the 4.5 months since we were originally locked out from the lake due to the Corona virus pandemic. We were invited back in late June prior to the re-opening of Lake Hodges so that we could clean up and prepare. Then after a couple of weeks we received a boilerplate email from the city which appeared to cancel all volunteer activities again. Now, after two more weeks of delay we have been welcomed back again.

So our status right now is that we are back to work! “Work” sounds like such an unpleasant word. We do work hard, but it is some very enjoyable work.

And we are once again looking for help. If you’d like to volunteer some of your time to help save the lives of the birds of Lake Hodges, and have fun doing it, we’d like to hear from you.

Corona Virus News

The city has closed all of its lakes and reservoirs and halted all volunteer programs. So we are suspended at Lake Hodges until things settle down. As far as I know, hikers are still allowed on the trails and so individuals could still “bank walk” for line and litter, but we cannot do it as volunteers, nor can I do any recruiting or training at this time. If you are interested in helping us, please be patient and check back when things start to normalize again. We will still need you.

Involvement

I made a posting on Nextdoor.com, yesterday, looking for more people who might want to volunteer at Lake Hodges. Something in how I worded it drew a lot of responses from non-kayakers.

A lot of the fishing line and litter that we pick up is also accessible from the shore. Some of the worst problem areas are those most popular with bank fishermen who walk in. So beach walking is a very good way to help.

I am going to create a section on the website out how you can help on foot. It may take me a day or two (and longer to perfect) so in the mean time, please feel free to contact me for more information.

The season changes this Week…

Lake Hodges – our local lake – opens for fishing this week. We have spent the winter scouring the shoreline and getting the lake as cleaned up as we possibly can. But it’s time to go back to the more urgent work of collecting the newly lost fishing line before birds can get caught in it.

We have a small, but dedicated group of volunteers, but there are miles of shoreline and keeping up with all of the fresh line is a challenge. If anyone is interested in helping, please read the Volunteers Needed and the About pages and then Contact me to get started.

Balloons – they just keep getting worse

Here is a video taken by Carolyn, one of our volunteers. This large bunch of balloons were found along the shoreline of Lake Hodges. Half of them were full of mylar confetti. Why in the world they do that, I don’t know. You can’t see the confetti until the balloon pops. That’s basically deliberate littering. The confetti is very hard to pick up out of the water. And it shimmers and glitters just like little fish, making it very tempting to aquatic birds to try and eat. That would probably be certain death.

Please don’t buy balloons. They kill birds. Yes, they are festive and fun, but how festive do you think it is to die from entanglement in the strings; how fun is it to starve because you ate the balloon or sequins?

Rising to A New Challenge

We’re getting pretty good at clearing the shoreline of line and litter that might hook or entrap birds and wildlife. But an awful lot of the fishing line that is lost in the lake is lost beneath the water level. And it takes its toll, too. Grebes and cormorants are two types of bird that live full time at Lake Hodges. Both types of birds dive under water to catch the fish that they eat. Both types are vulnerable to underwater fishing line. We have found a number of grebes in this situation. One survived it, the rest died. Here are photos of the latest, found by volunteers Mark and Karen. (Below)

So our big challenge now is how to find and remove line that is underwater. It’s hard enough to find up in the brush, but this takes the challenge to a whole new level.

We have been reaching down into the water to feel for it at the base of stumps and dead brush for a few months. Our hands are vulnerable, but are far more sensitive than dragging a rake or hook through the shallows. Now we are experimenting with using Velcro to entangle underwater line. So far the results are “inconclusive.” Meaning that we have only found one or two bits of line with it and we were already pretty sure where they were. If it does work out, we are hoping to figure out a way to “troll” it up and down the lake. We will continue to work on it, but we really could use help and ideas.

Two grebes who drowned after becoming entangled in fishing line.

If anyone reading this has any good ideas about how to find and retrieve underwater fishing line (no swimming or diving is allowed in this lake) then please leave a comment or contact us directly. I’d especially like to hear if any other organization has figured out how to do this.

Here is the sad photo: two grebes entangled in one piece of line. Found on 11-14-2019.

For those who are grossed out by this, just think how we feel; having to disentangle these dead birds from the line when we put so many hundreds of hours into trying to save them from this kind of fate. If this distresses you, do what we do: try to prevent more of it from happening.